Cycling East!

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North America » Canada
August 7th 2016
Published: December 24th 2016
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Sometimes you just want to get on your bicycle and ride out into the distance. And sometimes you decide to actually go through with it...

I left home by mid-morning. The day was sunny and growing ever warmer. I will choose heat and sun over thundershowers any day, and I assume most would. Within two hours I had traveled through Montreal and left to the north shore. I was making good distance. All the belongings I would need were securely strapped to the rack on the back of my bicycle. I was riding an old Minelli hybrid bike from at least the mid 90’s. It was solid though, with a strong steel frame. And it had proven itself already, having completed a tour to Boston, just a year prior. Still I had made sure it was in the best shape it could be, having done some mechanical adjustments and buying some new tires. I was cycling out east, hoping to get as far as I could. This would undoubtedly be the longest cycling tour I had ever attempted. I went along the 138, whose wide shoulders gave it the distinction of being part of Quebec’s Route Verte. The terrain was pleasantly flat. I pulled into a campground in St-Barthelemy a few hours later, amidst some strong head winds. I had covered 114 km. Menacing clouds appeared to be brewing in the late evening.

No rain had fallen overnight, and the sky seemed to be clearing up. Always a welcome sight when you have a long day of cycling ahead of you. I continued along the 138 and had the beautiful St. Laurence River to my right for much of the way. I usually try to cycle the majority of my kilometers in the first part of the day. I stopped to munch on peanut butter sandwiches when I got hungry. I had forgotten the type of hunger that touring creates. Nothing quite compares. I passed by multitudes of cyclists on my way, most of which who were just on leisurely rides. I reached the small town of Portneuf and found a campground. I had covered 133 km, and felt pretty tired. As was becoming my routine, I would set up my tent, take a shower and wash my sweaty clothes at the same time, and then eat dinner. As dusk fell, two other cyclists approached and set up their camp near mine. I went over and spoke with them. They were going to go into town and get some food and asked if I wanted to join. Considering that I needed as many calories as I could come by, I agreed to come along and eat some more! We found a small casse-croute that was still open. Leah had been touring since late May, having begun her journey on Vancouver Island. Her friend Kate had met up with her in Ottawa and going as far as Quebec City. We exchanged many stories and cycling tips.

I was up early. Leah and Kate were still sleeping. Although I could have gone riding with them for a bit, they would be stopping in Quebec City and I wanted to go further for the day. Another gorgeous day waited. About 55 kilometers later I was passing through Quebec City. I was getting a little lost amidst the windy streets but eventually I found my way to the waterfront. I hadn’t been here for many years and was reminded how magnificent old Quebec City was. My bike had been doing quite well, but today I noticed it was making a clicking noise every time I pushed down on the right pedal. I stopped into a bike shop to inquire and the kind owned came out to inspect it. He figured that it was just a tired bearing, but seemed quite convinced that I could cycle for a very long time and have no real issue. Apart from the relentless clicking. And so Old Clicky was born. I crossed the St Laurence with the ferry to Levis and then continued east, this time on route 132. I reached my destination a few kilometers before the town of Montmagny. Today’s distance was 117 km.

Four days in now and I was getting into a good groove. I always woke early, packed up my stuff, ate breakfast (often consisting of peanut butter and bread) and then set out. The weather continued to cooperate. I stopped by an information house soon after and was given plenty of info and more water. I then rode along the St. Laurence again, this time with it on my left. 111 km later and I was in St. Andre. That evening I got to enjoy an amazing sunset over the river.

I was expecting that I was in for a challenge as I set out in the morning of day five. The touring cyclist I met confirmed it. He was an older man who was returning to Montreal after a journey to Gaspesie. He mentioned that I would have trouble heading towards Cabano and that I should break it up into two days. Not a chance I would be doing that, but I thanked him and got going. Soon enough I was in Riviere-du-Loup and bought some supplies as well as ate loads of food. I then cycled up an unforgiving hill to escape the city towards the south-east. The trail turned to gravel and I was happy I had my new tires on with adequate treads. This trail went through heavy forests of the Temiscouata region. Although the incline was only 3 to 4 degrees, this was maintained for about 45 km. It doesn’t feel like much but being on a loaded bike for that amount of distance, and things get tiring real fast. I took my time and savoured the views, stopping often and snapping pictures. A few hours later and I began my descent towards Lac Temiscouata and the town of Cabano. I found a small campground there with a super nice woman who owned the place. I was more tired than usual despite the fact that I “only” cycled 97 km today.

I was leaving the province of Quebec and entering the next “segment” of my expedition. New Brunswick lay ahead. An old WWII plane was on display at the crossing. Otherwise, the trail remained gravel and I continued down into Edmunston. Although I had left Quebec, pretty much everyone spoke French in this part of the province. I carried on to St Leonard and then Grand Falls. It was a long day and I covered about 142 km. Once in Grand Falls, I set up in a campground right in the middle of town and then went out to explore the gorge and falls that this town is famous for. The river dropped down about 23 meters over a bunch of rock cliffs into the deep gorge. There were zip lines going from one end to the other. I walked around most of the gorge before going to the nearby main street to grab a bite to eat. I got back to my tent soon after and passed out.

Another beautiful day lay ahead. I rode south, quite close to the American border at times, along a quiet country road. Homes and farms were few and far between. Suddenly, the road ended with a large overgrowth creating a natural barricade. An orange sign ahead of this stated “closed until further notice”. I looked around, appearing dazed and confused. This had never quite happened before. To my right I noticed a dirt path and turned onto it. It was a terrible path, full of rocks and potholes. But it was the only one that existed for the time being. It felt like an eternity but eventually I was parallel to another paved road, and I gladly resumed my ride on it. I had lost a lot of time on the dirt road so I kicked it into gear and rode hard. A few kilometers later, as I was riding past a house, I heard loud barking. I had caught the attention of three dogs, and they were barrelling towards me at top speed. The one in the front appeared to be a pit bull and I could see thick muscle striations all over it. I pedaled with all my might, as the pit bull snapped at my leg. Luckily, I had reached a downhill and gained steady speed until I was safely away. This is the second time I’ve been chased by dogs in as many years, and it gets the heart pounding! For the rest of the day, I rode along much of the Trans Canada Trail, which is mainly a gravel path. It went along a lot of forested areas. Just to be on the safe side, I set up my bear bells and had my bear spray strapped to me. Hours later, when I was close to the town of Woodstock, I stopped on the trail to adjust something. To my right I heard a guttural growl coming from the forest. I couldn’t see what made that sound but I didn’t wait to find out. Maybe it was a bear or maybe something less (or more) sinister? I guess I can never know for sure. Total kilometers for the day: 118.

I was now on my way to Fredericton. I decided to stay on some secondary roads and avoid any gravel paths. The skies were clear and the hills began rolling. There were a lot of them. The sun was beating down on me, and sun screen be damned, was baking my skin into a shade of dark brown. I was riding along the St John River for much of the day and arrived at my destination in the late afternoon. Although I had been camping for the last week, I would be staying in a room at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. I checked in and then carried my bike up to a simple room within the dorm building. After showering, I took off to explore the town in the evening. There wasn’t much too see really but I did restock at a supermarket. I probably walked more than I wanted and was exhausted by the time I returned to my room.

The next morning I stopped in and had my complimentary breakfast that was included with my stay. Then I got on the saddle and headed back out again. I had plotted a route on Google maps. This had taken me onto some narrow dirt paths, which continued until I realized there was a clearing in front of me. Unfortunately, I had the Trans-Canada highway blocking my path! Two lanes going each direction with a small divide in between. Waiting for traffic to become sparse enough, I rushed across to the divide, and then rushed across the rest of the way back onto the path. Google maps sucks. The path then deteriorated into what should have probably been better suited for something like a mountain bike. I went along multiple swamps and realized that if I slowed down, or stopped, I was swarmed by large deer flies intent on taking chunks of my flesh. It seemed like forever, but eventually I emerged from these paths of despair and was back on paved roads. I dealt with the mountains of Hoyt and then descended again. After stopping to have some of my packed lunch, I got on my bike and detected that something felt off. I noticed, much to my dismay, which my back wheel was completely out of Tru. I had a busted a rear spoke, and this would cause some serious issues. I couldn’t fix this on my own, although maybe I should have learned how to at least some sort of makeshift repair. Still, I was more than 30 kilometers from St. John and had to get there before my bike became completely unusable. I went along at a much slower speed, still dealing with hills, and continued along. A thunderstorm seemed to be brewing behind me so I had something else to worry about yet. I stopped several times and tried to hitchhike, but honestly speaking, how many people are gonna stop to pick up a cyclist and his bike? In any case, I made slow progress and then even slower progress once I could only use the small ring of my chain ring. Anything else and the chain would simply fall off. I knew I was probably wrecking my rim as I kept on cycling. More and more spokes were being put under extra load and weakening. But I had to get into town and hopefully find a bike shop before everything closed. Hours later, and exhausted, I made it to a bike shop and eventually just had my whole rim replaced. I could have just replaced the broken spoke but I wasn’t really interested in having the possibility of having another spoke break the next day and so on. I figured the rim was old enough anyway and deserved to be retired. I then cycled another 10 kilometers to the University of New Brunswick in St. John amidst many more hills where I was staying for the second consecutive night in a dorm. St. John is hilly! I was fed up when I pulled in, having done many more kilometers then I hoped to (130 km), but I guess its all part of the experience.

I was up especially early the next morning. Fog reduced visibility down to almost nothing. I cycled towards the port and then caught the ferry across the Bay of Fundy. Two hours later I had made it to Digby, Nova Scotia! The crossing covered about 80 km and only upon arriving did the fog finally recede. It was another clear and sunny day. I spent a short time checking out the small fishing town before carrying on. My bike was now back to tip-top shape as I approached Bear River. From then on lay a lot of pain and massively reduced speeds. The hills were monstrous and on several occasions it was just more efficient for me to get off my bike and walk it up. I usually hate doing that but Bear River was breaking me down one hill at a time. Several hours later, I was close to Route 8, which would take me across to the other side of Nova Scotia. I stopped at a little camping resort called Raven Haven to eat my packed lunch. A bearded guy with lots of tattoos named Gord came out of the main building and let me know that I could chill out by the waterfront if I wanted. Gord started asking me about my trip and we chatted about bikes and about how terrible Bear River was. I took almost an hour break there and then got a maple ice cream to boot (this place had loads of ice cream). Then I set out again, intent on reaching Kejimkujik National Park which was smack in the middle of this part of Nova Scotia. About 45 minutes later, while riding on route 8, I realized that there was no traffic anywhere. This felt amazing, because who really wants to worry about getting blown off their bike by a truck if they don’t have to? I also noticed a lot of planes flying really low and figured maybe there was a local airport nearby? All of my curiosities were soon answered as I approached a barricade. A man stood in front of it with outstretched arms. He informed me that I was done riding. Feeling mildly frustrated, I asked why? I was informed that there was a serious forest fire up ahead and that the road was closed until further notice. Water bombers were trying to get things under control. I didn’t know what this would mean for my trip but I had to turn back around, despite being only 20 kilometers from my destination for the day. Luckily, one of the men was driving back the way I had come and offered to give me a lift. We loaded my bike onto the back of his pickup and he took me back to Raven Haven. I chatted with the guy the whole way back and I asked him loads of questions about his province and about the forest fires going on at the moment. Back at Raven Haven, I got caught up in an impromptu water balloon fight with the staff and Gord gave me a free ice cream for my troubles (Rum and Raisin). Everyone called me Bikerman. Although it was a short cycling day, it was challenging enough that I was content to just sit down and relax. Before retiring for the night, Gord checked up on me at the camping site, and I asked him not to forget about me if a raging fire was coming along.

I woke up and stared at the ceiling of my tent for a while. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing yet. If the road remained closed then I easily had a 150 km detour, heading partially back the way I came. This would mean having to deal with a lot of hills again. I was sure I had had nightmares of Bear River as I slept. Or I could just take a rest day at Raven Haven and wait it out? Or maybe I could just go for it and see what happened. I chose the later option. I packed up all my stuff as I usually did, ate a bite, and then rode off. I was doing much of the same route as I had before being turned back. This time I noticed no barricade and there was traffic going through so I figured maybe the fire had been repelled at least a safe distance from the highway. In any case I cycled for a good while before the air became hazy and then I looked at the unmistakable plumes of smoke rising from the forest to my side. Getting closer I saw several fire crews blasting water to the left of the highway. I heavyset fire fighter stepped out as I approached. I was almost certain that my day was done and that I would be sent back but the fire fighter explained that although the barricades were back up and no traffic was going through, those that were still in the barricade zone would be allowed to cross. I must have made it through only fifteen minutes before the barricade had been reinstated. The problem now was that I needed to get through a few kilometers of road without succumbing to death by fire or smoke inhalation. At first I tried to hitch a ride with some passerby’s in a pickup truck but they had no room for my bike. Finally, the fire fighter called in one of his co-workers to ferry me across the danger zone in a fire rescue vehicle. While waiting he told me that the fire was raging out of control and that in fifteen years on the job he had never seen anything so bad. They were planning on getting fire bombers from Newfoundland and even Quebec to help deal with this. Nova Scotia was never a place that made me think of forest fires but I guess all these dry and beautiful days I had been enjoying were really bad for the forests. We loaded my bike into the truck and then another fireman brought me across quickly, dumped me off, and then headed back to continue fighting the fire. It was an intense experience but now at least I was safely across and my trip could resume.

I met two other cycling tourists a little while when I stopped at a diner to get a very late breakfast. They were an uncle and niece duo and I joined them at their table for a bit until they took off to leave. They were going the same way as me and I was pretty sure I would run into them again. I ate quickly and resumed my cycling. Today was Saturday and apparently this was a regional yard sale day. Literally every household seemed to be selling old junk. I reached the town of Bridgewater a few hours later. I had cycled 95 km and was almost at my ultimate end point but I would be saving that for the next day. I had found a cheap hotel to stay in instead of camping, and I didn’t mind considering some menacing clouds were brewing overhead. I got some food and then went back to my room and watched TV for a bit. All this felt strangely foreign to me.

I slept in for the first time since I started my trip. I still felt kind of sleepy but figured I would get going. Not that I had much distance left. I was on my way to the nearby coastal town of Lunenburg. Initially I had thought to ride to Halifax or Peggy’s Cove but I figured reaching the UNESCO old town site would be a great way to cap off the ride. Yet again it was a gorgeous day. Statistically speaking, there’s no way I should have had this many beautiful days! I had practically no rain for the entire journey, and I felt bad that I never had to use any of my waterproofs. Not that I’m complaining though, I doubt I’ll ever get this good a run of weather ever again. Besides good weather like this causes forest fires, and that is bad. It also upsets Smokey the Bear. I had a leisurely ride, which was only 23 km long, and then rode into the harbour area of Lunenburg. There was a folk festival going on at the wharf and the Blue Nose II was in port. I enjoyed the festival for a few hours until Beverley arrived. Yeah I was pretty stoked I wouldn’t have to be riding back. Bev did eventually arrive, having left the day earlier from Montreal. She was off work for a while, so we would be continuing on to see more of Eastern Canada, the duration of which would be by car. But first, I wanted to celebrate so we went to a local pub and had fish burgers and beer. It was an incredible journey and a great way to see more of this part of Canada! Not to mention it really makes you appreciate the vastness of distances when you’re on a bike!

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